A Cabinet show of force with four ministers present was at the weekend used to indicate the high level of concern government has regarding rhino poaching.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa was flanked by the ministers of defence (Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula), police (Nathi Nhleko) and state security (David Mahlobo) when she made only the third public announcement of the year on rhino poaching in Pretoria.
Molewa said anti-poaching efforts in particularly the Kruger National Park are being undertaken “in the face of a 27% increase in suspected poachers” entering the world-renowned game reserve.
“So far during this year there have been 1 517 positively identified poaching activities in Kruger implying three incursions a day anywhere along the park’s thousand kilometre long border.
“This implies there are 12 active poacher groups at any given time somewhere in the two million hectares that is Kruger,” she said adding “this is why our teams have made physical contact with heavily armed poachers 95 times this year, close to three times a week”.
Last year there were 111 contacts with suspected poachers in Kruger.
The number of arrests of suspected poachers to date this year in Kruger is 138 compared to 81 for the whole of last year.
“By August 27 the number of rhino lost to poachers was 749 for the whole country. Five hundred and forty-four were poached in Kruger. At the same time last year 716 rhino had been poached nationally with Kruger losing 459,” Molewa said adding this indicated poaching had decreased outside Kruger “evidence our law enforcement authorities led by the SA Police Service are playing a key role in stabilising poaching in the rest of South Africa”.
The woman at the head of government’s efforts to maintain South Africa’s biodiversity said the Mission Area Joint Operations Centre in Skukuza was now fully functional.
“We have already seen good results with Operation Rhino set to run to 2016. Joint situational awareness through electronic means and livestreaming of information now informs in-time decision making, faster reaction and more proactive operations,” she said.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), elements of which are deployed in the Kruger National Park as part of the border protection tasking Operation Corona, assist rangers with anti- and counter-poaching activities but this is a secondary task only.
According to government data, 1,215 rhino were poached in South Africa last year, almost triple the 448 killed in 2011.
Of the 2014 total, 827 were killed in Kruger, which is home to around 9,000 of the animals.
Most of the poachers come from neighbouring Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations which shares a 350-km (210-mile) border with Kruger, and also poor South African villages near the park – a reason why so much of the carnage takes place near the reserve’s boundaries.